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PART ONE: HOMECOMING

I am writing this in the hopes that it will not be read nor understood. I am writing this to purge my mind of the visions that have followed me since that night in Professor’s private dojo. Or perhaps I should call it a lab. Or stranger still, a precipice.

If you should find this written account, I hope it provides only amusement and nothing more. I do not have any details on the scientific figures or technical processes that landed my Professor, my friend Bentley (poor poor Bentley) or myself in our horrid final states, nor would I understand any of them if I saw them. I was only an observer, led by concern for a mentor. I will only speak to what I saw that night, and in the days leading up to it, in the hopes that my mind can suddenly be free of these haunting visions.

I returned to Sopris, my doomed Colorado home, after receiving a letter from my old professor. Not a professor of letters or mathematics. No, this man was an academic in the field of combat. Professor Combs. I thought it strange that he would write to me, of all his dozens of pupils, to request that I come all the way back to Sopris. Maybe he knew that things were falling apart for me in Tahoe, maybe he could sense my desperation the way he often sensed things about my mental state on the mat.

Among other things, Combs was a professor of Jiu Jitsu, but he started in boxing. His shoddy ring was eventually torn out and replaced with mats, transforming his gym into a small haven for a budding “new” sport. New to the town of Sopris, at least. The rumor was that he abandoned striking and embraced the “gentle art” of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu after a strong right hook damaged his brain, but no one ever had the gall to ask him about it.

His letter was painfully vague. He only hinted at some great progress he was making in his practice, insisting that it was something I needed to see. I was not eager for a visit, but after considering my own listlessness in Tahoe, coupled with the impending flood of Sopris to create a Hydroelectric dam, it became clear: I simply had nothing better to do. So I packed my things, rented my room out in Tahoe and bought a train ticket to my hometown.

I hadn’t returned home in 6 years, having no kin to connect me there. I had no negative memories of the place, just a young man’s yearning to set out for larger adventures. 

Stepping off the train I remembered why I left. The smallness of the town was oppressive. Almost as if it had shrunk in anger. This had a curious effect on me. As I walked from the train to the one small boarding house in town, I didn’t look longingly at the buildings and signposts of my youth.

I looked between. I found myself bored by the familiar, instantly searching for something new between each crack in the sidewalk. I looked hard at the foundations of the brick buildings on Main Street. I looked down storm drains. Under the bridge. I looked down the alley, noticing the small places that rarely saw light or felt human footsteps. Finally I looked up, over the water tower (the tallest structure in the town) and into the cosmos.

I must have been staring into the sky a while, watching the stars swirl and form above the mountains. No one was in the street to interrupt me and I must admit I enjoyed this kind of reverie, as I often have in other places, even if I looked like a maddened drifter, staring into the sky.

Returning to my body, I became less aware of the sky above and more aware of the ground beneath my feet. I felt a light vibration, like a distant suggestion of an approaching train. I heard a faint hum, a machine sound not dissimilar to the hydroelectric generators that would soon dominate this place.

I followed the sound down main street, noticing that BJ’s Tavern was still open. A single neon beer sign casting an odd light onto the sidewalk, the faint sound of the jukebox playing. Two doors down from BJs, I stopped in front of my Professor’s gym.

He called it Combs’, but at some point the apostrophe had left his sign, affording Professor many confused visits from shoppers looking for hair care products. I smiled at the memory, but not long as the hum and vibration seemed to increase ever so slightly at the door to the gym.

I struggled with the idea of knocking. The small windows were dark and a ‘CLOSED’ sign hung in the door. Without realizing that I was even moving, I raised my hand and knocked, hard. Surprised by my own action, the sound of my knuckles rang out at an uncomfortably loud volume. As the sound receded, I swore I heard a quick rustling somewhere either beyond the door or behind me. But no reply from within. I tried the door and found it securely locked. I peered through the grime streaked windows (tidiness was not Professor’s strong suit) and could make out very little except for a faint light at the bottom of the stairs that led to the office and storage space.

Figuring it to be a desk lamp left on, I started to turn away when something caught my eye. This was no ordinary desk lamp. The light had a kind of...movement. It seemed to shudder and waver near the bottom of the stairs, not unlike sunlight seen from underwater. As I stood and peered, the sound of the humming grew louder, as if reacting to my intrusion.

I stared and knocked again, hoping to rouse an easy explanation from the sleeping building.

No reply.

A voice from behind: “Professor is gone. Long gone.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

Words: J.W. Hopper

Images: Jeffrey Weber